With the Best of Intentions

Yeah, it’s June and the last time I wrote a Blog here was in April. My bad.

Today I pulled gray shallots out of the ground — a plant I’d never tried before and probably won’t again. My ups and downs with gray shallots would’ve made a good Blog. But, no go.

I’ve had wild success with daylilies this year. Except. The ink on the labels I prepared vanished over the winter. I’ve no idea what’s what. That would’ve made a good Blog. But. Nope.

I’ve noticed a few new folks following in the last couple months, and I had to wonder why. NG-Blues started off as a record of the trials and tribulations of an inexperienced gardener.

In the last four years, I’ve learned … what? That with sunlight, water, weeding, and fertilizer, things that grow in Kansas will grow. That some things don’t grow in Kansas–blueberries, for example–without a degree of dedication and heroism I’m not willing to give. That it’s best to garden early in the morning before the bees arrive. That keeping track of when it rains makes decisions about watering easier.

So there it is.

Meanwhile, I’ve moved on to other projects that take a lot of time. My garden is up-to-date. My Blog, not so much.

A name change for the Blog is in order, and I’m thinking on it.

Meanwhile, here’s my favorite photo from this year’s flower garden. So far.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

What a busy fall it has been, beginning with the run-up to the Miami County garden tour and culminating in garden and home fall clean-up. I planned to begin this Blog with a statement like: “Where did September go?” But in point of fact, where is October going? Today, November is just one week and two days away!

So. Garden catch-up. Here is glimpse at my fall garden, consisting of Sedum Autumn Joy and ‘Profusion’ zinnias bought at a Summer Solstice Sale.

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Melons and big tomatoes did not do well this year. We picked each melon when all the indicators said ‘ripe’ but ended up with green nastiness. Tomatoes just rotted on the vine without ever ripening. That is, except for the grape tomatoes, which were plump and tasty!

And a new experiment for next year – row covers or, as they say in the horticulture biz, low tunnels. Metal piping hand-made at low (okay, lower) cost by my clever Jim. To be covered by 10 x 25 foot spun polypropylene covers that arrived Monday, compliments of Amazon. I plan to try and extend the lettuce season and plant spinach and beets for spring.

Will it work? That remains to be seen. I had high hopes last year for my cover crop experiment. It failed, I believe, due to our unusually wet spring, making a swamp in our garden plot, which led us to add more raised beds.

The row covers will work best if we have a mild winter so, of course, I anticipate temperatures running below zero Fahrenheit on a regular basis.

And that – meaning my pessimistic outlook – brings me to the title of this Blog.

Facing retirement in 2013, I decided to write a gardening Blog because first, I planned to do a lot of gardening and second, I really knew very little about it. At the time, I thought this would be a splendid way to learn how to garden while keeping my writing hand in practice.

As time went on, I found that telling stories about gardening was more rewarding for me as a writer – and I hope for you as a reader – than adding to the amazing number of how-to articles on the web. Looking for how-to? Look no further than your local extension office or do a web search of the extension .edu (university) sites. You’ll get great, research-based information.

Then, as these things go, serendipity took a hand. In 2002 I began writing daily ‘tips’ for clients of a former employer. I had a great time writing them – ten years’ worth! When I announced my retirement, my employer switched to a tip writing service. But suddenly, it seems, they are recycling my old tips.

Since I hadn’t discontinued the service, I had a chance to reread my own tips. It reminded me of all the things I could be writing about. So here’s another experiment – one outside the garden.

I’ll still write about gardening and sometimes about food. In addition, I also plan to write about some other things, issues that touch me day to day and make me think.

Now that my garden is winter-ready and my house organized, I promise to write more faithfully. My hope is that you will continue to read and react!

Useless Things

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We have a great many apparently useless things lying around. Case in point: the table in the photo, which we found at a garage sale. Metal, with half the red paint peeling off, I thought it would look nice on the deck once we repainted it. But I have ten thumbs and must depend on Jim for things like painting. My cute metal table was a low priority project, and so it sat in the barn awaiting a good sanding and painting for several years. In point of fact – and as you can clearly see – it still awaits.

The cup and saucer – thankfully, you cannot make it out in the photo – came to us as a family Christmas gift. I wanted to toss it out the minute I brought it home. Instead, it sat in the garage gathering dust and golf balls for several years.

The metal whatsit was my error. Saw it at a flea market, immediately fell in love, and brought it home only to find it worked nowhere. Not the fireplace mantel, not the hearth, not the hall table. And so, it resided in the basement for several years.

This spring, out with a gardening friend, I saw this red vine. I thought it was a Mandevilla and an especially lovely one at that. In general, I like Mandevilla in other people’s yards. But no, my friend corrected me. It is a Dipladenia, related to a Mandevilla, bushier although no less tropical. It will last one season unless I bring it inside when the weather turns cool.

“Plant it in that cup and saucer,” Jim suggested. I did, and the poor thing flopped around, the ends of the vine burning in the sun, until I remembered the metal whatsit, which fit perfectly on the metal table.

You see the result. Three useless things and one ephemeral vine. Gorgeousness for a Friday morning in the middle of a heatwave.

Every Flower Has Its Day

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What’s my message? I’m not sure whether this is about patience or the ephemeral nature of – well – nature.

I stumbled across this lily last year at the Flower Farm‘s Solstice Sale. (BTW, their sale is this weekend if you happen to be in Spring Hill, KS).

Loved it, bought it, brought it home and planted it. And, as flowers do, it promptly lost its bloom and died back. My dogs or some other creature, ate the leaves.

Oh well. I had it for a few days.

This year, I wondered what was coming up in that particular spot in my garden. Then remembered. But the following day, half the foliage had been eaten away. Oh well! Again, I blamed my dogs. They’ve turned into vegetarians since I started gardening.

While walking the yard yesterday, I saw two gorgeous lilies in bloom. Thought, get the camera, get the camera! But by nightfall, I realized I’d have to till this morning. Waiting is not always a good thing. As you can see, one lily has already lost its bloom. The other remains magnificent for maybe another day.

I know I have to wait for next year to see this again.

If it survives the ravages brought on by dogs, wild creatures, and Mother Nature. This bloom – to my eyes anyway – is worth the wait. So I learn patience. I just wish it lasted longer.

Spring Tour

Mostly photos for this Blog.

Decided to do more containers this year. Here are some African daisies (Osteospermum) and Easy wave petunias.

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A container from Sullivan’s. For those who live around the KC Metro area, great place to shop on select Saturdays!

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Supertunias silverberry. We’ll see how they do in containers.

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Clematis – always a sure thing!!

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One of the new ‘almost black’ sedums. I was certain it had died last fall, but here it is thriving!

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Pink tulips year two. Color me happy!

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Alium – also another tried and true returning plant. I always mean to buy more, then think I have too much in this garden!

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Can you spot Fat Boy behind the climbing hydrangea? This is year two for the hydrangea and it’s really starting to climb. We’ll have to see whether it decides to flower…

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And this is year two for strawberries. Looks like we’ll have lots. Yum!

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The yard is starting to look like something! Stay tuned for more raised beds… coming soon!

Salve!

I didn’t much care for my fifth grade teacher – let’s call her Miss K. A large woman, Miss K bounced around a classroom making remarks that left a person feeling uncomfortable about herself. She even made the boys cry. Maybe you’ve had a teacher like her.

At that age – for some reason I was a year younger than everyone else – most of her remarks went right over my head. I just knew that Miss K did not like me as much as she liked other kids in the class.

Walking home from school one day (now in the eighth grade and about to enter high school), Miss K stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I didn’t, but I also didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ So I said yes. Here’s our conversation:

Her: So you’re going to high school.
Me: That’s right.
Her: Are you taking Latin?
Me: No. French and German.
Her: (Sniff). Of course you’re not taking Latin. You will never need it.

Allium Christophii

Allium Christophii

Back then, I had no idea what she meant by that. I did ‘get’ the disrespect.

Now, some 50+ years later, I understand the comment. Thing is, it’s beside the point! As a gardener with a tiny grounding in botany, I sort of need Latin. Here is some.

Zinnia elegans

Zinnia elegans

This is what we learned in last week’s EMG class. Kingdom – Division – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species. And I have to say, I’m glad I’m not a botanist! But I am using Latin…

Clematis Claire de Lune

Clematis Claire de Lune

Just so reading the Blog won’t be a complete waste of time for you, the more important lesson from our botany class was about matching the plant to the environment.

My example? I have a lovely place under one of my pin oaks that is calling out for hellebores (Helleborus orientalis). I’ve planted several different types from a couple of different nurseries, including one that I know for certain is hardy enough to survive out of my friend Lenora’s garden. As of this morning, they are all dead. Clearly the environment was not right for helebores. I planted some daffodils (Narcissus Icelandic Pink) instead.

And by the way, if you want to know how to pronounce those Latin names, the Missouri Botanical Garden site will let you hear the correct pronounciation online. Just click the microphone to the right of the name!

What I Shoulda Done

This week I ripped out my red and yellow day lilies. After five years of frequent bed cleanups, I decided to plant the bed with my favorite bush, hydrangeas. Of course, I wanted compact hydrangeas instead of the kind that get overgrown and messy.

In addition to reducing the mess and cleanup quotient, I remembered that hydrangeas love acidic soil, much like blueberries. And you guessed it! Last spring I planted blueberries ‘around the corner’ from the bed where I plan to plant hydrangeas. With hydrangeas HERE and blueberries THERE I can acidify the soil to my heart’s content. Easy!

We won’t talk about the clematis already established in that bed. They are doing fine and maybe can stand a little acid.

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But this week, I found out what I didn’t know. Tuesday was our first extension master gardener class. Dennis Patton from the Johnson County Extension Office talked about soil. To digress, once he finished discussing the definitions of ‘soil’ and ‘dirt,’ I thought I should change my Blog tag line from ‘Let’s play in the dirt’ to – yes, indeed! – ‘Let’s play in the soil.’ But it doesn’t pack the same punch.

So, soil. What I shoulda done was get a pH test for the soil in that bed. For two years, I’ve been sprinkling some product that claimed to acidify the soil. I shoulda known the name of the product, what it does, how much to use, those kind of things. But growing plants isn’t like baking a cake, right?

Oh so wrong. I still need to follow the established recipes! My blueberries are not liking their spot. Too little sun? Too little acid? Too wet? I don’t know…

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Tuesday I learned that the Extension Office will do a free soil test once a year. Knowing my pH will help me know what I can do – if anything – to make the soil acidic enough for blueberries and hydrangeas. Although I just read that the real acid-loving hydrangeas are blue.

Sometime in midsummer, I spotted a red hydrangea cultivar outside the grocery store and thought I’d make it my ‘test’ hydrangea for that bed. It’s had brown spots on the leaves since the end of July, and I kept telling myself that it was due to a lack of acid in the soil. But no. What I shoulda done was to Google ‘brown spots on hydrangea leaf.’ I would have learned that I probably have something called cercospora leaf spot, an infectious leaf disease. Since I have more hydrangeas on the way, the question is whether I pull that plant out or try to fix the problem with a fungicide.

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So glad I’m taking these classes. I’m still hoping that the summer of 2015 has fewer blues!